Starting a Business in North Carolina – A Comprehensive Guide

How to Start a Business in North Carolina

Turning your business idea into a reality is an exciting venture, and North Carolina provides a great environment to make that happen. This blog will guide you on the critical elements of starting your business in the state. This straightforward guide will be a valuable resource for anyone looking to start a business in North Carolina.

North Carolina skyline is shown demonstrating a thriving business startup communityTop Two Benefits of Starting a Business in North Carolina

  1. Favorable Business Environment: North Carolina has consistently been ranked among the best states for business due to its low business costs, incentives, and access to a broad and skilled talent pool. Forbes ranked North Carolina as the #1 Best State for Business in its 2021 list.
  2. High Quality of Life: The state offers a high quality of life that can attract and retain talented employees. It boasts a unique mix of bustling cities and beautiful natural landscapes, from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Outer Banks.

Top Two Challenges When Starting a Business in North Carolina

  1. Navigating Regulatory Requirements: Like anywhere else, starting a business in North Carolina has its fair share of regulations and requirements. These can sometimes be complex and time-consuming to navigate, especially for first-time business owners.
  2. Competition: With a thriving business environment comes competition. New businesses need help establishing a market presence, especially in saturated industries.

Regulatory Factors and Taxes in North Carolina

Understanding regulatory factors and the tax environment in North Carolina is an essential step when starting your business. North Carolina has a competitive tax climate which can be beneficial for companies. The individual income tax rate in North Carolina is flat at 4.75 percent, while the corporate income tax rate is 2.50 percent. Additionally, the state has a 4.75 percent sales tax rate and a maximum local sales tax rate of 2.75 percent. The average combined state and local sales tax rate is 6.99 percent. This information is critical for businesses to understand as they calculate operating costs and set product or service prices.

North Carolina also has a franchise tax for doing business in the State. It’s assessed at $1.50 per $1,000 of the corporation’s net worth, with a minimum tax of $200.

Therefore, while North Carolina offers a favorable tax climate, it’s important to know these costs when planning your business. Understanding and managing these taxes can help ensure your company’s financial health.

How do I Choose a Business Structure?

There are five primary types of businesses. Each type of business entity is described below.

Sole Proprietorship

A business owned and operated by one individual with no legal distinction between the business and the owner. The owner is personally responsible for all debts and liabilities of the business. Most small business owners in  North Carolina use this business type.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

A flexible business organization that combines the liability protection of a corporation with the tax benefits and simplicity of a partnership. Owners of an LLC are called members, and their assets are typically protected from the debts and liabilities of the business. You have the flexibility to define many aspects of how your business will work in your Articles of Organization.

S-Corporations

A type of corporation allows for pass-through taxation, meaning that profits and losses are passed through to the shareholders and reported on their tax returns. S-Corporations are limited to 100 shareholders and must meet specific eligibility requirements. An S-Corp can be particularly advantageous if the founders or investors have other income. If the business doesn’t generate a profit in any year, the shareholders can use the losses from a tax perspective.

C-Corporations

A separate legal entity from its owners (shareholders) means that the corporation can enter into contracts, own assets, and sue or be sued. C-Corporations are subject to double taxation, meaning that the corporation and the shareholders are taxed on profits.

A Note About S-Corps and C-Corps

For both S-Corporations and C-Corporations, your business formation documents will include Articles of Incorporation, sometimes called a Corporate Charter.  The specific requirements and format of Articles of Incorporation can vary by jurisdiction. It is advisable to consult with a business attorney or online legal service such as Legal Zoom to ensure compliance with local laws and regulations when drafting and filing these documents.

Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)

A partnership that limits the personal liability of its partners. LLPs are typically used by professional service providers such as lawyers, accountants, and architects. Each partner is protected from the other partners’ wrongful acts, omissions, and negligence, but they may still be personally liable for their actions.

Distribution of Businesses

Business Type Percent of Businesses in  North Carolina
Sole Proprietorship 60-65%
Limited Liability Company (LLC) 15-20%
S-Corporation 10-12%
C-Corporation 5-7%
Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) 2-3%

The distribution of the resources varies depending on the industry and location within the state. To obtain the latest and most reliable information, it is advisable to consult a legal counselor or a local business specialist.

What is an Employer Identification Number – EIN?

Definition of an EIN or Employer Identification Number

An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is a unique identifier consisting of nine digits the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) assigns to businesses operating in the United States. This number is crucial for business owners as it simplifies tax administration and is also commonly referred to as the Federal Tax Identification Number or the Federal Employer Identification Number.

Do I Need One to Start a Business in North Carolina?

Obtaining an EIN is essential to start a business in North Carolina. This vital number is required when establishing a business entity, hiring employees, obtaining business licenses, or opening a business bank account in North Carolina. Failure to obtain an EIN can result in significant financial penalties and legal ramifications.

How Do I Get One?

To secure an EIN, you can visit the IRS website and complete the application process online. This method is quick and convenient, providing you with the number immediately after completing the application. Alternatively, you can submit the Form SS-4 to the IRS via mail or fax. If you need additional assistance or require more information, you can reach out to the IRS at 1-800-829-4933 or visit their website at https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/employer-id-numbers .It is important to note that an EIN’s application process is free of charge.

How to Start a Business in North Carolina – Important Registrations

Registering My Business Name

Getting your business up and running in North Carolina requires registering your business name with the Secretary of State’s office. This step is vital in establishing your business’s legal presence in the state. You can contact the office at (919) 814-5400 or visit their website at https://www.sosnc.gov/ .

Registering a DBA (Doing Business As) If Relevant

If your business operates under a name different from yours, you must register a DBA or “Doing Business As” with the Secretary of State’s office. North Carolina has 100 counties, each with local government services and regulations. The state government’s website, https://www.nc.gov/agencies , can provide valuable information on local rules and requirements.

Registering for Payroll, State Payroll Taxes, and Unemployment Insurance

Managing payroll taxes and unemployment insurance in North Carolina necessitates creating an account with the North Carolina Department of Commerce, Division of Employment Security. You can find them at https://des.nc.gov/ or get in touch at (888) 737-0259.

Registering for Worker’s Compensation Insurance

Businesses in North Carolina are also obliged to secure worker’s compensation insurance. This insurance can be obtained from a licensed provider. If you use a payroll service , they should also be able to provide worker’s comp.

Registering for Collecting Sales Tax

Businesses in North Carolina must register for sales tax collection. This can be accomplished through the North Carolina Department of Revenue’s website: https://www.ncdor.gov/ . For more information, you can call them at (877)252-3052

Registering for Income Tax

North Carolina does levy a state corporate income tax. As mentioned earlier, the rate is 2.5%. For information about filing and payments, visit the Department of Revenue’s website at https://www.ncdor.gov/ .

Registering to Pay Property Tax

For any inquiries about property tax in North Carolina, it’s best to contact the tax office in your local county. For further information, visit the North Carolina Department of Revenue’s website at https://www.ncdor.gov/ . You can get more information here https://www.ncdor.gov/taxes-forms/property-tax/property-tax-division

Permits for Starting a Business in North Carolina

Business regulations are made in the North Carolina state capitol, shown here.Do I Need a Business Permit to Operate a Business in  North Carolina?

At the State Level: Certain types of businesses in North Carolina need a state-level permit to operate. These include companies selling alcohol, running a restaurant, or operating a fishing charter. It’s best to refer to the North Carolina Department of Commerce’s Business Licenses and Permits page for more details. You can access this information at https://www.commerce.nc.gov/ or reach them by phone at (919) 814-4600.

Check With Your City: Local city ordinances in North Carolina may also require permits or licenses for specific business activities. Therefore, it’s crucial to check with your city’s business office to determine if there are additional local requirements. For example, the City of Raleigh’s business licensing details can be found at https://raleighnc.gov/services , or you can reach them at (919) 996-3200.

Check Federal Requirements. Some businesses, particularly those involved in broadcasting, drug manufacturing, or transport, may require federal permits or licenses. You can find this information on the U.S. Small Business Administration’s website at https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/launch-your-business/apply-licenses-permits .

Check With Your County: Additionally, counties may have specific regulations. For instance, businesses need to obtain a privileged license in Mecklenburg County. For more information, visit Mecklenburg County’s business tax website at https://www.mecknc.gov/TaxCollections/ or contact them at (980) 314-4030.

How do I learn about any special permits I need for my business? 

There are many ways to learn about special permits required for your business.

  1. State Agencies: North Carolina’s various agencies regulate different industries and professions. For example, the North Carolina Board of Nursing oversees nurse licensing, while the North Carolina Real Estate Commission manages permits for real estate professionals. You should check with the state agency related to your industry for specific licensing requirements.
  2. Business Link North Carolina (BLNC): The BLNC is a free service for anyone seeking to start a small business in North Carolina. They can guide you on the specific permits required for your industry. You can visit their website at https://edpnc.com/start-or-grow-a-business/start-a-business/ .
  3. Consulting with a Business Lawyer: A business lawyer familiar with North Carolina’s laws and regulations can guide the various permits and licenses your business may require.

While starting a business can be exciting, ensuring you’re operating legally by obtaining the necessary permits and licenses is crucial.

Financing Options for Entrepreneurs in North Carolina

While personal assets and credit cards might be the first go-to resources for financing a business, several other funding options are available in North Carolina. Starting a business can be financially demanding, and it’s important to explore all available avenues to avoid depleting personal finances or incurring excessive debt.

Financing a New Business

Securing a credible funding source is paramount for new businesses. The financial boost can help you get your venture, cover operating costs, and expand your business. While you can seek investments from venture capitalists or angel investors, grants are another attractive funding option you don’t have to pay back. Remember, each option has prerequisites, and due diligence is crucial before making any commitments.

SBA Loans and Microloans

The Small Business Administration (SBA) is committed to aiding the growth of small businesses. They offer a variety of loan programs, including microloans, which are smaller loans that provide immediate access to capital for small businesses. Microloans can be especially useful for entrepreneurs who need a small capital boost for business expenses. You can learn more about SBA microloans at this site .

SBA Microlenders in North Carolina

Below are some SBA microlenders specific to North Carolina:

Carolina Small Business Development Fund

Website: https://carolinasmallbusiness.org/ Phone: (919) 803-1437

Mountain BizWorks

Website: https://www.mountainbizworks.org/ Phone: (828) 253-2834

Thread Capital

Website: https://www.threadcap.org/ Phone: (919) 212-4950

Self-Help Credit Union

Website: https://www.self-help.org/ Phone: (800) 476-7428

Carolina Community Impact

Website: https://www.ccifund.org

Phone: (919) 785-0718

Email: services@ccifund.org

State and Local Grants and Incentives

North Carolina offers various state and local grants and incentives to help businesses kick-start their operations or expand. One notable resource includes the North Carolina Rural Grant Programs Website: https://www.commerce.nc.gov/grants-incentives .

North Carolina is committed to nurturing businesses and entrepreneurial activities, particularly in its rural regions. An essential instrument in this mission is the North Carolina Rural Grant Program. Administered by the North Carolina Department of Commerce, these grants aim to stimulate economic development, create jobs, and foster an environment conducive to businesses in rural parts of the state.

The North Carolina Rural Grant Programs comprise several initiatives. For instance, the Rural Building Reuse Program provides grants for renovating and fitting vacant buildings, encouraging businesses to utilize existing structures and stimulate local economies.

Similarly, the Building Demolition Grant assists communities in demolishing vacant, dilapidated buildings to make way for new economic development projects. This program targets areas where the building’s current condition impedes economic development.

The Economic Infrastructure Program grants funds to assist with infrastructure needs related to job creation. This could be upgrading water and sewer systems, extending broadband connectivity, or improving roadways to better serve new or existing businesses.

Angel Investor Groups

Angel Investor Groups in North Carolina are a valuable lifeline for startups and small businesses looking for capital infusion. These collectives consist of high-net-worth individuals who band together to invest in burgeoning businesses with high growth and success potential. These investors typically provide more favorable terms than other lenders, as they usually invest in the person rather than the viability of the business.

Investment from these groups goes beyond monetary support. Their investment often comes with a wealth of industry knowledge, entrepreneurial experience, and extensive networks. These elements can be a powerful advantage for young businesses, aiding not only in their financial growth but also in strategic decision-making, accessing markets, and overall business development.

However, it’s essential to understand that attracting investments from Angel Investor Groups isn’t a walk in the park. They seek ventures with a robust business model, innovative ideas, and a capable team to deliver on the business plan. Therefore, businesses must demonstrate potential profitability and a well-crafted strategy.

Moreover, they look for a strong return on investment, so businesses must showcase how they will provide this, whether through a robust growth strategy or an eventual buyout or IPO.

In summary, Angel Investor Groups in North Carolina can be a game-changer for startups and small businesses. While securing such funding requires meticulous planning and a compelling presentation of your business’s potential, the rewards go far beyond the financial boost. It can set a promising venture toward significant growth and success.

Benefits of a Well-Structured Business Plan

A well-structured business plan can be the backbone of any successful venture, particularly in North Carolina’s competitive economic environment. A well-crafted plan sets the course of the business, outlining key objectives, strategies, and timelines. It also identifies potential challenges and plans for how to address them. North Carolina boasts a diverse economy with industries ranging from agriculture and manufacturing to technology and healthcare. A solid business plan is essential to succeed in a competitive market.

A solid business plan can be instrumental in securing funding for North Carolina businesses. This state offers numerous funding opportunities, such as Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, local grants, and incentives. These funding bodies typically require a thorough business plan demonstrating a clear profitability path. Moreover, North Carolina’s growing network of angel investors and venture capitalists also values a comprehensive business plan as it exhibits a business’s potential for growth and return on investment.

Executing a proper business plan in North Carolina involves utilizing the state’s resources to assist businesses. For example, the Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC) assists new and existing companies with business planning. Local universities like the University of North Carolina offer startup resources, including business plan development guidance. Staying updated with industry trends, attending local networking events, and continuous plan refinement is also part of effective execution.

Meeting Lender and Investor Expectations

Meeting lender and investor expectations are vital for securing business funding. Lenders and investors are taking a risk on your business, so they need reassurances that their investment is worthwhile and the risk is manageable. This is particularly important in North Carolina, which houses a dynamic blend of traditional and innovative businesses seeking financing.

Firstly, demonstrate a clear understanding of your business model, market, and how your product or service fits that market. Lenders and investors will want to see that you’ve done your homework, understand your competitors, and have a clear plan for reaching your target audience. Providing detailed and realistic financial projections is also crucial. This should include revenue forecasts, expense budgets, cash flow statements, and balance sheets. These elements of a business plan reveal your business’s profitability potential.

Secondly, exhibit your management team’s ability and commitment to the business. When deciding to invest, lenders and investors will often consider your management team’s experience and track record. Show that your team has the necessary skills and expertise to execute your business plan. Also, transparency is critical. Be open about potential risks and your strategies to mitigate them. Remember, trust is a critical component in any financial relationship. You can build lasting relationships to help your business grow and prosper in the long run by meeting and exceeding lender and investor expectations.

Where Can I Find a Mentor to Help Me Succeed?

The guidance of an experienced mentor can be pivotal in navigating the entrepreneurial landscape of North Carolina. Mentors can share valuable insights, practical advice, and industry-specific knowledge to help new businesses flourish in this vibrant state.

North Carolina offers a robust array of resources dedicated to nurturing its entrepreneurial spirit. The following are noteworthy options for those seeking mentorship and support:

North Carolina SCORE: This affiliate of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) provides free mentorship to businesses at all stages of development. They also offer cost-effective workshops and a wealth of online resources.

Phone: (704) 344-6576

Website: https://charlotte.score.org/

North Carolina SBDC: Offering a wide array of services, including business plan assistance and financial analysis, the North Carolina Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) is an invaluable resource for startups and existing businesses.

Phone: (919) 715-7272

Website: https://www.sbtdc.org/

National Institute of Minority Economic Development: The Institute, also known as the National Institute of Minority Economic Development, was established in 1986 with funding from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and the N.C. Association of Minority Businesses. Its goal is to expand economic opportunities by diversifying North Carolina’s business base.

Website: https://theinstitutenc.org/wbc/ 

Phone: (919) 956-8889

LaunchBio: This organization nurtures life science and biotech startups, providing networking opportunities, programs, and events designed to stimulate growth and innovation.

Phone: (919) 213-9835

Website: https://www.launchbio.org/

Innovate Carolina: An initiative of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Innovate Carolina offers various resources, including mentorship, to support and stimulate entrepreneurship.

Email: innovate@unc.edu

Website: https://innovate.unc.edu/

By leveraging these resources, entrepreneurs in North Carolina can equip themselves with the necessary knowledge and support to thrive in the state’s dynamic business environment.

The Economy of North Carolina

North Carolina has a diverse economy with many opportunities for starting a businessUnderstanding the economy of North Carolina is paramount when starting a business. The state’s economic indicators, such as average household income, education level, and consumer spending per capita, can provide insights into market opportunities, potential challenges, and the overall business environment.

Economic Overview

Average Household Income

As of the latest data, the median household income in North Carolina is approximately $60,516. This figure sits below the national median, reflecting the affordability of living in the state. For businesses, it can mean a careful pricing strategy to appeal to the average consumer while ensuring profitability.

Average Level of Education

Regarding education, about 89% of North Carolinians aged 25 and over have completed high school. Furthermore, approximately 33% hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. These figures suggest a reasonably educated workforce, which can benefit businesses requiring skilled labor or specialized knowledge.

Consumer Spending per Capita

Consumer spending per capita in North Carolina stands at around $38,844. This figure signifies the purchasing power of individuals in the state. This figure may be lower than in some states, indicating that businesses may need to emphasize value-based products or services.

It’s essential to be aware of these factors when starting a business. They influence consumer behavior, workforce availability, and overall market dynamics, playing a crucial role in shaping your business’s success.

Top Industries in North Carolina:

North Carolina boasts a diverse economy, with several industries playing a significant role in the state’s economic output.

The finance and insurance sector is a dominant force in North Carolina’s economy. Charlotte, in particular, is a significant financial hub, often dubbed the “Wall Street of the South.” It houses the headquarters of Bank of America and the east coast operations of Wells Fargo. These financial giants and many other banking and insurance institutions in the state contribute significantly to the state’s economy.

The healthcare and pharmaceutical industries also play a pivotal role in North Carolina’s economy. The state is home to the Research Triangle Park, which houses more than 170 companies and a workforce of over 42,000, heavily weighted towards life sciences.

Technology is another rapidly growing industry in North Carolina. According to NC Tech Association, the state boasted an estimated 280,000 tech industry workers, with the IT and software services industry contributing $14.1 billion to the economy. The sector grew by 20.5% from 2015 to 2020, indicating an increasing interest in tech enterprises in the state.

Manufacturing, particularly in aerospace, automotive, and defense, is also integral to North Carolina’s economy. The manufacturing sector, which employed 460,000 people, accounted for 17% of the state’s total output, contributing $102.48 billion to the economy.

North Carolina’s future economic prospects look promising, with sectors such as green energy and agri-tech showing significant potential. For instance, by 2025, North Carolina’s clean energy industry is projected to grow by an additional 20%, building on the sector’s current contribution of $14 billion to the state’s economy annually. These dynamic sectors demonstrate North Carolina’s adaptability and readiness for future economic trends, making it an attractive location for businesses across diverse industries.

Network Your Way to Success When Starting a Business

Networking is a skill that most successful business owners have as one of their top talents. You can do it too! Networking is a great way to improve your success and grow your personal and business reputation. Here are a few ways to get started.

Identify Complementary Businesses: Identifying businesses that complement yours is a powerful strategy to boost your business’s reach and impact. Complementary businesses offer products or services that align with your own but don’t compete directly. For example, a local health food store or a wellness clinic might be a complementary business if you run a fitness center in North Carolina. Collaborating with these businesses through joint marketing campaigns, referral programs, or package deals can attract a broader customer base and increase sales for both businesses. By building these strategic relationships, you create a symbiotic relationship that benefits both parties, fostering a spirit of community and cooperation.

Leverage Workforce Talent:  North Carolina is home to a talented and diverse workforce, thanks partly to its robust education system, including numerous high-ranking universities and research institutions. Businesses can tap into this talent pool to bolster their operations, whether hiring skilled engineers for a tech startup, knowledgeable financial analysts for a banking firm, or experienced researchers for a pharmaceutical company. Moreover, the state’s focus on continuous learning and professional development means that the workforce consistently updates its skillset to match industry needs. Businesses should take advantage of these resources, as the talent and creativity of the workforce can drive innovation, enhance productivity, and propel the company’s growth.

Collaborate with Industry Leaders: Building relationships with industry leaders in North Carolina can create a wealth of opportunities for your business. These individuals have extensive experience and knowledge in their respective fields, which can be an invaluable resource for burgeoning businesses. By fostering relationships with these leaders, you can gain insights into the market, receive advice on navigating industry challenges, and possibly uncover opportunities for partnerships or collaborations. Furthermore, gaining recognition from established industry leaders can boost your business’s credibility, which can help attract customers, potential partners, and investors. Therefore, attending industry events, joining professional organizations, and seeking networking opportunities to meet and learn from these industry leaders is worth attending.

Workforce and Talent

Understanding the demographics and information about the workforce and talent in North Carolina is crucial for businesses. This data informs the types of skills and expertise available in the labor market and helps companies to make strategic decisions about hiring training, and workforce development. Businesses that align their needs with the skills and strengths of the local workforce can improve their productivity and competitiveness.

Unemployment Rate

As of 2023, the unemployment rate in North Carolina stands at around 3.40%. This rate indicates the proportion of the jobless labor force actively seeking employment. A lower unemployment rate often signifies a healthy economy but could also mean a tighter labor market for employers seeking to hire.

Minimum Wage

The minimum wage in North Carolina is currently $7.25 per hour, the same as the federal minimum wage. Businesses must know this as it affects their labor costs and budgeting. Furthermore, ensuring fair wages is key to attracting and retaining employees.

Average Age and Demographics

The median age in North Carolina is approximately 38.9 years, with 51% females and 49% males. These demographics provide insight into the market businesses are operating within. For example, a younger median age might indicate a market more receptive to innovative, tech-focused products and services. At the same time, a higher percentage of females could signal opportunities for businesses that cater specifically to women.

Breakdown of People with Various Levels of Education 

Educational attainment among North Carolinians aged 25 and above is as follows:

  • Approximately 30.4% hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • Around 89% have a high school education.
  • About 13.4% have no high school diploma.

These figures indicate the level of education in the state’s workforce. A higher percentage of bachelor’s degrees could mean more skilled workers in the technology, healthcare, and engineering industries.

Top Areas of Skilled Workers for Residents of North Carolina

North Carolina’s diverse economy presents several opportunities for skilled workers across multiple sectors. Some of the state’s top areas of professional work include healthcare, technology, education, finance, and manufacturing.

The healthcare sector in North Carolina is growing, with an increasing demand for skilled professionals like nurses, doctors, and medical technicians. A large aging population, technological advancements, and the expansion of healthcare facilities spur this growth.

Technology is another area with numerous opportunities for skilled workers. North Carolina is known for its thriving tech industry, particularly in the Research Triangle Park area, where professionals in software development, data analysis, cybersecurity, and IT management are highly sought after.

Education is a stable field for skilled workers in North Carolina. The state’s strong emphasis on quality education has resulted in an ongoing need for qualified teachers, administrators, and support staff. In addition, online learning has opened up new avenues for professionals in educational technology and curriculum development.

North Carolina’s robust financial sector, particularly in cities like Charlotte, offers opportunities for skilled workers in areas such as banking, insurance, and financial analysis. The state is a central hub for banking, with many national and international banks having significant operations here.

Finally, North Carolina’s manufacturing sector, including food processing, textiles, and automotive, requires a wide range of skilled workers—roles in this sector range from engineers and technicians to logistics and supply chain professionals.

In summary, while the top areas of skilled work in North Carolina are diverse, they all offer significant opportunities for individuals with the right qualifications and skills. These sectors continue to evolve and grow, creating a dynamic employment landscape in the state.

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